LDF led a group of over three dozen civil rights, education, disability rights, and business organizations in expressing strong opposition to a draft bill that would dismantle key provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation’s key civil-rights-era legislation designed to bring educational opportunities to all children.
Euphemistically entitled the “Student Success Act,” the draft bill released in January by Representative John Kline, the Republican Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, would undermine federal accountability for schools that inadequately serve students of color and other historically underserved groups. The proposed legislation ignores disparities in access to college preparatory curricula, eliminates academic performance targets, fails to address disciplinary disparities that undermine academic achievement, and allows states and local school districts to radically reduce their financial support to high-poverty schools with impunity. As stated in a joint letter to Congress opposing the House draft bill, LDF and a number of other organizations find these proposed changes to federal education law unconscionable.
The letter signals LDF’s continued push for legislation that will equalize educational opportunity, consistent with Congress’ intent in passing the original version of the ESEA at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1965. And the letter’s long list of signatories reflects a broad and growing coalition of organizations calling for changes to federal education law that would advance the civil rights agenda instead of turning back the clock on the gains made in educational equity and closing achievement and opportunity gaps. Many of those same signatory organizations joined LDF in signing a November 2011 letter in which they declined to support an ESEA reauthorization bill sponsored by Senators Tom Harkin and Richard Enzi, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, respectively. While markedly different from the proposed legislation by Chairman Kline, the Harkin-Enzi bill also failed to provide the structure and resources needed to equalize opportunity in education.
The ESEA was last reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002. And members of Congress have thus far failed to deliver a new reauthorization bill that addresses the problems of NCLB while remaining true to the principals set forth in Brown v. Board of Education. LDF continues to believe that a bi-partisan ESEA reauthorization bill that meaningfully addresses educational inequities is possible. But both houses of Congress, and both sides of the aisle, must do their part.